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Friday, June 19, 2009

Got Milk?

No, not the universally popular beverage... I am talking about the invaluable Milk of Human Kindness which seems to be in short-supply around the world.

So, I was agonizing worse than a cat on a hot tin roof for a few weeks, with my mom and D giving me the much-needed boost, to do what many sane mothers would find curiously masochistic: I took the first flight out of town, flew half-way round the world with Ana and Oggie (no, D could not come with us) and am here in Madras now to spend summer with my parents. (I know, but my mind refuses to accept "Chennai", so Madras it shall remain for me).

I probably shouldn't toss the whole basket just because of a few rotten apples, but, I doubt if I will fly Lufthansa again after they screwed up. I called them 48hrs before travel, everything was confirmed, but after I waited in the mile-long line eagerly with my bags and baggage to check-in and finally got my turn, they claimed that the system didn't recognize Oggie as a traveler!! Thank God D was there, or I would have just bawled, considered it an omen and ran back to the safety of my home, knowing air travel has not been my friend... but, D hung in there, we got it sorted out and got our boarding passes.

In my excitement to get going after the mini fiasco of system rejecting Oggie, I delayed worrying about the fact that they issued boarding passes in not just two separate rows, but two different sections for me and Ana! Oggie, of course, was a lap-child.

So, I talked to the air crew as soon as we boarded. Now, I was given the bassinet row which I had requested at the time of booking, and so, my seat was there, but, Ana's was elsewhere. Which is unacceptable, even by airline rules - a small child is not to be seated away from her mother in the same flight. So, the flight attendant tried to ask around and switch passengers who are willing, so as to let Ana sit next to me. Here is where I choked: Nobody offered to switch, and what's more, when the flight attendant requested very kindly to this gent, he simply said, "No, I won't" and refused to budge!

All the while Ana was huddling next to me wondering if she has to travel standing the whole way to India, with Oggie squirming on my lap... Well, long story short, the air crew supervisor stepped in, and found a way to let Ana sit next to me. Phew!

However, as soon as we were on the runway, strapped in and ready to lift off any second, Ana started crying that she needed to puke. NOW.

Expected, of course. And, Be Prepared being my Girl Guide motto from childhood, I had packed change of clothes for both the kids. So, I told Ana to throw up in the paper bag or on herself till we are allowed to get to the toilet at cruising altitude.

Now, Oggie was not liking the fact that he was strapped in with me and started squirming and protesting vehemently, much to the annoyance of my fellow passengers. I could feel their piercing can't-you-get-that-brat-of-yours-to-shut-up stares... but, what the hey, we all were kids once and who knows how our mommies endured similar glares then. So, be my guest, stare all you want, I can feel my epidermis getting visibly thicker by the minute was my mantra to get through it.

Somehow, the 10+ hrs from PDX to FRA went by, partly thanks to the bassinet, partly thanks to the little screens on every seat for kids to watch some show, and mostly thanks to Polly Pocket! Yep, I didn't succumb to her wee little wiles till now, but again, since Be Prepared was my motto, I had bought a tiny new carry-along playset for Ana for the flight. She was happy just putting on the clothes and shoes, taking them off, setting up a party and such, and was quite easily engaged in her own world... just dropping by into my world to use the potty and puke and refuse the water and food I kept offering her periodically.

Of course, Polly Pocket helped me in more ways than she knew: I simpy took it away from Ana when she would not drink up the water to keep hydrated, and pee periodically to make sure she is not terribly uncomfortable.

As I knew carrying a tired infant and dragging a groggy Ana from one gate to the next to switch flights in FRA would be next to impossible, especially with a diaper bag for Oggie, a backpack with activities and change of clothes for Ana, plus a bag with snacks and food for the kids as they won't eat anything new, plus the umbrella stroller... I had requested assistance in the form of motorized cart right at the time of checking in and getting my boarding pass. It is one of the services Lufthansa offers, and when I had called 48hrs before travel, the agent on the phone assured me that if I requested the ground crew at the time of check-in I will be taken care of.

Hah! The agent at the Lufthansa counter at PDX was competely inept as I found out - she didn't put in my request! At least that is what the air crew told me when I asked about it before we landed at FRA. They helpfully suggested asking the ground crew if they can transport me even though my request doesn't show up in their system.

As I found out, the ground crew was completely callous and snapped 'Kinder Wagen?' gesturing me to wait around for the stroller that I had checked in at the PDX gate, and then telling me in no uncertain terms that they cannot arrange to help me get to my next gate as it costs 41€ and since my request was not in their system they cannot do it, and there is no recourse, and requesting right now is not valid... not even helpful alternatives to get around, not even a simple, we could try now but no guarantees... nothing. Interestingly enough, there seems to be some silent war going on between the air crew and the ground crew.

Meanwhile, I felt like I was dying and was still only half-way to my destination...

Now, I swear, I did pack light! Somehow between the diapers and formula and change of clothes and activities and snacks for kids, it just didn't seem so. But, it was bare minimum essentials for such a long journey, believe me.

The 10 hrs with pukey Ana and unhappy Oggie, while expected and prepared for, did take its toll on my nerves. I would have managed the tiresome trek from one gate to the next at FRA had the security checkpoint personnel had some sense of consideration for a mother carrying a screaming infant and a tired little child and not barked at me and my little girl. I came apart right there cursing myself for believing that I can do it and trusting my mom when she naively assured me that people are helpful... Boy was she wrong!

Well, let me back up a bit: the little droplet of the Milk of Human Kindness that sustained me at the start was at PDX airport: even though TSA video claims "Choose your Lane" if you are traveling with kids or have Medical Liquids we have a special lane for you... they had none at PDX. However, fellow passenger on the line helped me put the 3 bags plus the stroller, plus the shoes, in bins and slide it along to help me. And, the checkpoint security guy simply smiled and said come on over with your kids, it is fine - and they didn't make a huge fuss about anything, clearly realizing that harrassing a mom frightens her kids, adopting the prudent policy not to suspect such a traveler unnecessarily.

In contrast, at FRA, they barked so badly at me, not sure for what and I didn't care as I wasn't carrying any contraband, that it frightened sweet Ana. When they were not nice to my little girl, I unhinged and fell apart. They made me set Oggie down on the counter to almost strip-search me, all the while Oggie pathetically wailing pointing and looking at me as he was being restrained by a german officer. And poor Ana was asked to sit by the conveyor till they could ascertain that I was not a threat to fellow travelers. All this is from getting off one plane and getting to the next gate for the next leg of the travel. I simply hate large airports. My worst experiences so far were at LGA (NY), EWR (NJ), and ORD (Chicago). But FRA left them all far behind.

I bawled. I bawled uncontrollably much to the scornful stares of fellow travelers. I didn't care. I did valiantly try to reassure Ana that Amma was fine, just needed to let the water drip from her eyes for a while.

Anyway... Let me pause to reiterate that I was expecting no special treatment anywhere. I will do all the security needs, I will follow all the rules, just show some manners, decency, and basic human kindness. I did not expect this journey to be a cake-walk. I was psyching myself up before travel and prepared Ana as best as I could.

Agreed this was my choice: I was eager to see my parents and to let my kids bond with their grandparents. And, agreed I went along with my mom and D when they said you can do it, it is not an impossible task once you set your mind to it. I can hear myself thinking Suck it up and Get on with it! However, in the interest of venting, and seeking some sort of closure, let me finish the story here.

The 9 hrs from FRA to MAA was not much different from the previous leg, except, Ana and I were seated together without incident, and the kids' bio-clock kicked in, albeit late, and they slept for half the duration which gave me time to collect myself.

I found myself thanking God for keeping the flights on time and safe. I caught myself gazing at the two little sleeping forms and begging for forgiveness from whichever authority keeps track of such things for putting them through such an odyssey just to satisfy my need for them to bond with their grandparents... and was slightly amused to find myself enjoying filling out the customs and immigration forms while the kids were asleep, trying to picture the Madras airport from my previous visit four years ago...

Four flights arrived at nearly the same time, making the Immigration queue much longer than normal; plus they had this Swine Flu checking - took my temperature and such... all the while poor Oggie would not shut up. He was red in the face, sobbing with gasping breaths, inviting very unkindly stares from passengers who had a brood of their own standing in the queue.

I managed to stay calm, reassure Ana and let Oggie know that I hear him and understand him but cannot help him as I needed all my focus and strength to get through the hurdles... I managed to pay a helper-guy to get my suitcases on to a cart but he was a busy-bee managing several customers, so, I took custody of the cart, juggling customs forms, making sure my passport holder didn't fall off in all this excitement and praying to Lord Anjaneya for superhuman strength to get me through.

With Oggie hanging on my chest in the baby carrier and Ana hanging onto my shirt, wheeling the cart full of travel paraphernalia out, I must've been quite a curious sight... but I didn't care...

I blossomed like a lotus and wilted like a sensitive orchid at the same time as my roving eye settled on my dad and mom waving fratically at the exit to receive me and take me into their protective custody!

So here I am. In Madras. Sipping filter kaffee from eversilver davara-tumbler, letting my mom fool Ana into thinking the Whey Protein Bournvita she made was the coveted Chocolate Milk that Ana lives for, watching Oggie strew the puzzle pieces Thaathaa and Paattee had kept handy, thinking: I don't want to go back! At least, not yet!

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16 Comments:

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Subhashree said...

Oh My God. What an ordeal! I get the shivers when I read through this experience of yours. Phew!

Where in Madras are you put up?

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Sheela said...

HI Subhashree, I still shudder when I picture the way I was treated at FRA! I am in Mylapore, about 10 mins from Kapleeshwarar temple.

 
At 4:29 PM, Blogger Reva said...

I came here looking for an email id to write to you.. and I saw this post. I thought of u as super-mom all along and this just confirms it. I wouldn't have been able to handle this.. hope u r feeling better! (Somehow when u r with ur parents everything seems to be good na?!)

 
At 4:43 PM, Blogger seeseebeehomestead said...

sheela,

Read your email and this blog.
First of all I have to say, you are one strong woman .

But , I needed to vent here.

I HATE LUFTHANSA . I HATE TRANSITTING THRU FRANKFURT. I HATE UNFRIENDLY MOB MENTALITY CUSTOMS GUYS IN FRANKFURT AIRPORT. I HATE UNFRIENDLY GERMAN AIRPORT OFFICIALS AND AIRPORT WORKERS. I HATE MANUEVERING THRU CONFUSING SIGNS IN FRA AIRPORT.

Flying with lufthansa brought the worst in me and also our first time experience of transitting thru frankurt .I am a seasonsed traveller and I have never experienced this sort of treatment and attitude in any other airports .The directions in the aiport is soooooooooo convoluted and felt so sad seeing so many indian parents completely getting lost in that stupid airport.

I checked with airlines every single week for 4 months since we booked the tickets, to make sure we have the bassinet. Just a week before our travel, an inept Cus.Ser gal at lufthansa gave wrong info about not getting the bassinet. I literally fought with them regarding this misinformation.
The flight from PDX to FRA ,the bolts to hold the bassinet never worked so they casually said it is dangerous to put the baby inside. My first "FU" moment. Fortuanately I had ergo but my husband adamantly insisted we sleep the baby in the bassinet.

We almost missed the connecting flight due to delay in bringing our strollers from the plane and the directions were so confusing that lot of fellow portlanders travelling to europe and middle east were cursing them. We somehow managed to catch the sky train reach the terminal only to find looooooooong line at the security almost 75 -100 poeple standing before us. Inspite of it the officials were taking their own sweet time to check everybody and talking as if they were in park .
Then some kind lady opened a gate and allowed the passengers with small babies to pass thru a special security lane. otherwise we would have defnitely missed the flight.
In this chaos , I was not able to feed the baby . Our nightmare started during the second phase. He started crying during the take off hearing some other child cry. The other kid stopped but not my boy. He cried non-stop for more than 5 -6 hrs . we were standing near the restroom downstairs the whole 6 hrs . Then a old indian dr who boarded chennai flight from FRA advised us that something is bothering him and requested flight attendant to dispatch some pain medication. After that he slept quietly for next 3 hrs . During those 6hrs none of flight attendant even asked if we needed anything to drink or eat. We were not able to eat or drink seeing our little baby cry in distress and not able to calm him made us feel so worse. But kind words from other indian moms/eldery grandparents travelling with us gave some comfort. Thank god it happenned during our flight from FRA to mAA where we were surrounded by indians specially tamilians who understood our situation.

I made a promise to myself that I will not fly again with lufthansa. We booked lufthansa just because it is direct flight from PDX to MAA
The friends who have travelled with little kids had similar complaints against lufthansa that they never bothered to bring milk to cyring infants. They refused to give water to my mother during land off and she is a kidney patient. Not once they asked us if we needed anything for the baby . Though he was on forumula we needed hot water. only on our request they brought hot water.
I am seriously thinking about starting wordpress blog about reporting such bad incidents happening to mothers travelling with kids.

It's the day and age where marketing people are seeking mommy bloggers and I am sure our voice will bring better custom care from lufthansa and from Frankfurt officials.

 
At 11:39 PM, Blogger Zaara said...

You poor thing!!! This sounds horrible, but I think there is a lot of racism at the large European airports. Notwithstanding, air travel has just become a nightmare and I've heard a lot of awful things about Lufthansa.God bless, you are home now, safe and sound,and the ordeal can be committed to memory or a blog. A few months down the road, it may not seem so horrific.

 
At 8:43 AM, Blogger Sheela said...

Reva, thanks for your kind words and support... you are so right - once we are home with our parents, none of this seems to matter much... however, I am dreading the trip back - this onward journey has shaken my faith in people in general.

Charu, oh dear, poor NR, I was thinking about you a lot on the flight since you had made just the same trip not long ago... and thanks for confirming that Lufthansa and FRA are the worst in your experience! After I told D about it, (D who is ever willing to give everybody a second chance), almost made me feel I was imagining the unfair and substandard treatment and that I should just "get over it". But, am not ready to let go yet - I will find closure soon, writing the post was my first step, but the experience is too raw right now...

Zaara, thank you for your kind words... hopefully Time will heal the deep gash this experience has left in me... I feel terrible for putting Oggie and Ana thru it - they have no clue, they look to me for comfort, trust that I will make them feel safe in strange places, and the FRA security checkpoint was such a horrible nightmare that I felt so impotent and abandoned - NOBODY came to give a hand - and they could see little Oggie being held by the officer, poor Oggie half-groggy, hungry and all he wanted was to be on his mommy's chest... Poor sweet Ana, she withstood it all with such quiet dignity, I felt an inept fool for breaking down and bawling in front of her... It was a Bloody Hell moment for me and just recapping it here is making my eyes well up...

 
At 5:57 PM, Blogger Kodi's Mom said...

oh my god. sheela. this is the stuff of nightmares that plagues every mom traveling with two kids. and you had to face the worst of it at every sector.

when you recover, pls do write to them. as seeseebeehomestead put it, the bloggers' voice is loud and far reaching.

on the bright side, hey, you're in chennai! with parents! now relax and get pampered.

 
At 8:29 AM, Blogger Dee said...

oh Sheela...hugs to Ana...I can fully understand the challenges her mind must have gone through. She is a brave girl! hey my husband's house is a about 5 minutes from the temple too...wish I was vacationing there right now :)Hope you settle in soon and enjoy the simple pleasures of Madras and mom's house..

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger Lavanya Seetharaman said...

Yea, I had a bad experience with Lufthansa on my flight to India this time with my 4 month old.....Very very bad customer service..they took 4 hours to warm a 4oz bottle..Anyways, now that u are in India, hope u are having a good time and getting some time to rest :-)

 
At 10:22 AM, Blogger Subhashree said...

Where in Mylapore? I live opposite Rangachari Clothes' store. You can mail me at subhashree@gmail.com

 
At 10:35 AM, Blogger the conflicted cook said...

Gosh, what an experience! Try not to think of the return trip yet. In the end I think it'll be worth it all.

Been through something similar with the strollers being checked in without our knowledge as they didn't have room for them. We had to claim them with the rest of the baggage at the destination, all the while lugging the little ones along with the carry on baggage. The flight from Germany to India had about 50-100 kids on board and it always seems to be the case.
I'm terrified of traveling with kids these days and have sorta developed a phobia.

And eat mangoes! It's almost the end of season I guess.

 
At 1:08 PM, Blogger Kay said...

Whoa!! What a nightmare! :( I'm sorry you had a tough trip. Big hugs, Sheela!!

I blossomed like a lotus and wilted like a sensitive orchid at the same time as my roving eye settled on my dad and mom

I understand. Must have been a huge relief too!!

 
At 12:33 AM, Blogger Sheela said...

HI Kodi's mom, you are so right - I should write to them, my dad has been pestering me to... and once I settle down a bit I plan to... and, while part of my mind wants to convince me saying "You asked for it by traveling alone with 2 kids", the rest of my rational self tells me that in today's world, while Cathay pacific and S'pore Airlines can offer courteous and friendly service, I should not lock myself at home till my kids are much older to travel...

Dee, thanks and return-hugs to you too! Why don't you hop on a plane and come over - just don't take Lufthansa - would like to meet you :)

Lavanya, thanks for sharing your horrible experience... btw, did you write to Lufthansa Customer Service? I am emailing seeseebeehomestead with the same question... in my pessimistic view, I think such a letter would just end up in the trash at Lufthansa (or as TP as my dad would say), but, it needs to be communicated...

Subhashree, I emailed you - look fwd to running into you in the 'hood soon :)

the conflicted cook, oh, dear, the phobia you speak of has gripped me so bad my heart starts palpitating when I think of the return trip... on the good side, like you said, I've been eating Rumani, Banganapalli and Kili Mookku mangai almost daily :)

Kay, thanks girl! the two hours between landing and sighting my parents seems like a dream now - every ounce of my patience and strength somehow got squeezed out with divine grace imho, else I would not be here today! Haven't popped over to your space for Kefir update yet - will do soon :)

 
At 2:27 AM, Blogger Poppins said...

OMG Sheela you are brave. Super brave to attempt this on your own. But by that I don't mean that you shouldn't have done it.

I remember Mad Momma doing a post about the insensitivity of fellow passengers and people in general towards crying babies esp on planes. How else are people supposed to travel then?

On the positive side, you're in Chennai ! Wow. How long will you be there?

 
At 12:46 AM, Blogger Kim said...

OMG girl, you are an amazing lady.
I hope you are enjoying your trip. How long are you there for?
Kim

 
At 5:23 AM, Blogger Kay said...

How long are you in India for, Sheela? I'll be there in August-Nov.

 

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